Q. Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

By Joyce Hendley, September/October 2007

Is high-fructose corn syrup bad for you?

A. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manmade sweetener that’s found in a wide range of processed foods, from ketchup and cereals to crackers and salad dressings. It also sweetens just about all of the (regular) soda Americans drink. HFCS used in foods is between 50 to 55 percent fructose—so chemically, it’s virtually identical to table sugar (sucrose), which is 50 percent fructose. Metabolic studies suggest our bodies break down and use HFCS and sucrose the same way.

Yet, after HFCS began to be widely introduced into the food supply 30-odd years ago, obesity rates skyrocketed. And because the sweetener is so ubiquitous, many blame HFCS for playing a major role in our national obesity epidemic. As a result, some shoppers equate HFCS with “toxic waste” when they see it on a food label. But when it comes right down to it, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar. A can of soda contains around nine teaspoons of sugar in the form of HFCS—but, from a biochemical standpoint, drinking that soda is no worse for you than sipping home-brewed iced tea that you’ve doctored with nine teaspoons of table sugar or an equivalent amount of honey.

Even Barry Popkin, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who previously suggested, in an influential 2004 paper, a possible HFCS-obesity link, stresses that the real obesity problem doesn’t lie just with HFCS. Rather, it’s the fact that sugars from all sources have become so prevalent in our food supply, especially in our beverages. He scoffs at the “natural” sweeteners sometimes added to upscale processed foods like organic crackers and salad dressings. “They all have the same caloric effects as sugar,” he explains. “I don’t care whether something contains concentrated fruit juice, brown sugar, honey or HFCS. The only better sweetener option is ‘none of the above.’”

At EatingWell, it’s our philosophy to keep any sweeteners we use in our recipes to a minimum—and likewise, to limit processed foods with added sugars of any type, including HFCS. We recommend you do the same.

Did you know?

The corn syrup found on supermarket shelves is only a distant cousin to the high-fructose corn syrup used commercially. Both start by processing corn starch with enzymes and/or acids, but the HFCS process is much more complex and results in a different chemical structure.

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Many previous comments appear to reflect opinions based on...well, opinions...rather than factual evidence. Several statements imply the posters have swallowed a fair amount of hysterical propaganda in addition to the excess quantities of sugar we can agree are present in many products. My plea to those invidivduals: Please stop ignoring that there is NO EVIDENCE high fructose corn syrup/sugar has a different impact on the human metabolism than "real" sugar, and cease propogating unsubtantiated conclusions.


05/08/2013 - 4:34pm

I think people are missing the point. We all make choices when it comes to puting food in our mouth. When you put regular sugar in your mouth nerve impulses signal to your brain that you have consumed sugar. After a short period of time your brain says enough. NOW with HCFS there is no signal and the brain does not recognize the sweetness. Which is the reason why people consume to much. Moderation is the key to living long and healthy. I know my grandpa lived to 94 YEARS OLD. His experience speaks louder than words. Moderation.


04/04/2013 - 2:40pm

To me, the link between the drastic increases in obesity and diabetes is not because of the health concerns, rather because of costs. HFCS is radically cheaper to produce and use than normal cane sugar. This allows the costs of things like soda, candy, chips etc. to be greatly reduced. Now here's where the connection starts. We live in a society where people pick up a soda over a bottle of water, why? Because it's cheaper. We have generations of people living below the poverty line that cannot afford fruits and vegetables so they choose to hit places like McDonald's or other fast food establishments. HFCS is not evil, it's science. However, science has made it possible to but out natural sweeteners because they are simply more expensive. Our battle with these health related issues begins with teaching people that yes, you might be saving a couple bucks here and there when buying food, but in 15 20 years, when you are suffering from health complications and medical bills are piling up, you'll wish you had spent the little extra then to save you literally thousands later.


04/02/2013 - 1:09pm

i feel that there is something wrong with this simplified view of fructose and/or HFCS's the wrong conclusion ...maybe HFCS really is bad, but it's not because of the reasons they (and most of the comments here) come up with..... if HFCS is bad because of the fructose ratio, then apples is dangerous junkfood, OMG, ban apples! they have a pretty high ratio of fructose glucose.... fructose is not that bad, it's the processing perhaps, not the fructose itself.... if i go on an applejuice diet and end up with some disease, it will not be because of the fructose content ............anyway, maybe in future with nano-technology there will be some easy way of just adding some chemical that will convert fructose (or some other specific sugar) into oxygen or water, without creating alcohol or acids ...remove the fructose from applejuice and it must be super healthy juice then... i will probably do it, just to be sure... the humans evolved the fruits into sugar bombs they wasn't supose to be in nature.. so perhaps it is kinda "dangerous" with too much sugar, even tho' it's the main fuel for the human body, and the reason why evolution made us like sugar. because it's good to find sugery fruits in nature..


03/29/2013 - 8:54am

So many incredibly intelligent people post on articles like this with their expansive knowledge of science and the structures of molecules. Everybody should listen to what everybody else on this comment thread has to say. I do believe that almost all, if not every single one, have advanced degrees in chemical engineering and chemistry related fields.

Sure, it's true that HFCS is just glucose and fructose. Glucose + fructose = HFCS. Glucose + fructose = table sugar. The difference? HFCS has slightly more fructose than glucose to make it sweeter. The catch? That extra few percent of fructose is making us all fat, making us have man boobs, giving us cancer, destroying the ozone, emitting CO2 into the atmosphere to increase the effects of global warming, and I do believe that HFCS is also the culprit in dangerous gamma ray bursts from the sun.


03/27/2013 - 1:21pm

HFCS is bad. It is true that people can be allergic to a part of corn. Because I am and so are my older brother and sister. It isn't really severe, but it does hinder us in ways. We really have to watch our food choices and try and find substitutes. But it's hard to find good substitutes for corn syrup on a tight budget in the modern economy. And we could use corn for better uses than a sweetner, it helps to feed cattle, so our farmers our having to pay more therefore making them raise their prices for the food companies, making us pay for it out of our wallet at the store. When all this could stop simply by finding another sweetner other than HFCS, and maybe a better one at that. You all may have different opinions than what I say because you don't go through the same things, but I'll leave you with one more point. HFCS is a bad choice because, our body is made to process sugar not corn syrup so when we eat corn syrup it may seem like sugar but chemically the structure is entirely different than sugar so our body struggles to use it and you won't really see the effects of it but that's because they're on the inside and you can be doing damage without knowing it.


03/25/2013 - 11:58am

Sugar is fuel for your body. Sugar is not bad because it's sugar. REFINED/ISOLATED sugar/syrup is bad because of the LACK of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers.. All those missing things are what helps the body to handle, repair and detox the damage done by processed sugar. Technically I asume that HFCS is ok if you add all those micronutrients back in, just make sure that it's not a reduced version. Adding a few other refined nutrients is not good enuff. Nature is still too complex for the arrogant scientist to fully copy/synthesize, but if you take an apple and then ferment it so that the sugars turn into either alcohol or acids, and then vaporize it, you will end up with an apple without sugar. Then add HFCS and the result will be something similar to a cooked apple, still containing most micronutrients with the sugar content exchanged with another nearly identical sugar/syrup. I don't believe that it matter that much if the corn is GMO. The end product of HFCS is so refined that any GMO mutations are gone. The reason why some men's hormones are screwed up (creating "manboobs") is because of estrogen in beer, soy lecithin, plastic bottles, etc.. it's not because of sugar... maybe very indirectly, but only because of lack of hormone balancing micronutrients, but not the sugar itself..


03/15/2013 - 12:35am

How to make orange juice...
Squeeze fresh oranges

Why do companies even think to put 10 ingredients in something that nature already made perfectly. A lot of things do not even need HFCS because they're inherently sweet, so why is it in there? I don't know if I agree with the bias-riddled "science" saying that HFCS is all natural and even healthy sugar for your body. It's like Cocaine from Corn. It's the next asbestos just waiting to happen... It was the perfect cheap insulation until we discovered how dangerous it was. "Oh wow, here's a really cheap sugar we can use for everything... until they find out it causes cancer and birth defects" says big industry.

It's not only about which sugar to use. It's about using any adorning ingredients at all... MSG, Aspartame, HFCS, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin... The list goes on. We are forced to eat food-like product instead of just growing things and eating them like our ancestors did for centuries without many problems. How can we figure out scientific dog food formulas that make my dog strong, lean, and have a shiny coat... but the human diet has been so neglected. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do feel like there is more going on here than meets the eye. Henry Ford built a Model-T car out of plastic made from Hemp, which is much stronger and lighter than steel, and it ran on Hemp fuel. Big oil companies came in and vilified Hemp as a drug. It may be related to a drug, but industrial hemp is not at all possible to use in that way. DuPont and other companies banned together to shut down every idea that did not include using their products for everything... messed up. That's what capitalism gets you. Maybe there's something going on with the companies that produce HFCS. Why are the companies that just make regular food forced to put special labels on their products saying they are organic and so on. It should be the other way around. Their products are just food, as you would expect to buy it. It should read... "Genetically Modified, Chemically Enhanced, Preserved Ketchup" Forget the FDA, you really think they're out to help you?

"If the people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson


03/10/2013 - 1:05pm

corn syrup is so bad for you as it comes from corn, but it's NOT natural corn but GMO corn which the latest studies show that it leads to cancer
(just search on google or youtube)
you will be shocked


03/10/2013 - 3:55am

A difference of 10% is not "identical." Where does the extra 10% go that cannot be metabolized? Don't listen to propaganda from processed food companies that would have you sick and obese so the pharmaceutical companies will get richer.
Give up high fructose corn syrup and anything that it is in. Give up artificial chocolate with PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate). Say goodby to Hershey's and any other company that thinks making things artificial will make them richer.
We need to love our children enough to feed them real foods.


03/09/2013 - 9:21pm

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